Monday, May 28, 2007

Echoes from the Past - Priesthood of the People

Of all the challenges thrown almost exclusively at Catholics, think for a moment about which is the oldest in the Book.

If you need a hint, notice that I asked which was the oldest, not in the history of Christianity, but of the Book, itself. Is it: "Why do you Catholics pray to the saints?"Or: "Why do you Catholics confess to a priest?"How about: "Why do you Catholics believe Jesus was an only child?"

Actually, from what I am able to tell, the oldest anti-Catholic argument in the book is this one: "Why do you Catholics call them priests? Don't you know that 1 Peter 2:5, 9 tells us we are all part of a royal priesthood?"

Most non-Catholic Christians are very bothered that we call a select group of men "priests" when Scripture appears to apply the term to all believers. To many, it seems to be just another example of where Catholics "add to Scripture".

What do we say to this as Catholics? Only that we agree! As Catholics, we use the same verses (1 Peter 2:5, 9) to discuss the common priesthood. We are all priests in that we offer prayers and personal sacrifices (time, money, luxuries) to the Lord. Does this mean, however, that there is not a sacramental priesthood as well?

What I would like to do is jump back to the Old Testament for a moment because the reason that this particular attack on Catholicism is the oldest in the Book is because ... the first time we see it is in Exodus! Here's a side-by-side comparison to illustrate:1 Peter 2:9 reads, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people ..."Exodus 19:6 reads, "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation ..."

So, the idea of a common priesthood is not some New Testament institution; it existed throughout salvation history. But look:1 Tim. 5:17; Jas. 5:14-15 shows priests (presbyters, elders) tending to the flock through preaching and by administering the sacraments.Exodus 19:21,22 reads: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people ... and let the priests also ... sanctify themselves." This verse shows that there was, among the common priesthood, a special "priestly" group (in fact, later in Exodus, we see the establishment of the Levitical priesthood). Just as the New Testament "common priesthood" still allows for a sacramental priesthood, the Old Testament "kingdom of priests" allowed for a special sacrificial priesthood.

Yet, today many non-Catholics complain about a set of men set apart as "priests" in the Catholic Church, as if they are somehow exalted above the rest of us. This charge usually extends to include the bishops and the pope. However, if any of them would carefully read Numbers 16:3, they would see a prophetic foreshadowing of their charge as the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron: "You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?"

Why is this the "oldest attack in civilization"? Because it wasn't originally directed at Catholics; all through salvation history God has called for his church to have a select priesthood among the faithful. This isn't some new "Catholic invention". Rather, its roots extend all the way through the history of Israel. Unfortunately, so does the grumbling.

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